Which is harder: Running a marathon or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?

Not Kilimanjaro, but another volcano. This was at the top of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands

Not Kilimanjaro, but another volcano. This was at the top of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands

Yes, that is the age-old question, isn’t it? <insert cricket sounds>

OK, so maybe this isn’t a question that the average person finds themselves asking, but this is something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately. In June, my husband and I will head to Tanzania to tackle the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world: Mount Kilimanjaro.

This challenging climb reaches 19,341 feet and will take a total of 7 days to reach the top. A team of hardy porters carry all our gear, food, water and shelter for the ascent and our group will hike 10-20km a day eventually reaching the summit on Day 7 after an 8 hour hike in the middle of the night. Each day gets increasingly more challenging with the altitude, which can sometimes have intense side effects. What’s more, altitude effects everyone differently, and there’s really no way to tell in advance if you’ll be one of the unlucky ones that gets altitude sickness and has to abandon the climb.

In total, if we make it to the top, we will climb approximately 90km. Overall, it seems pretty intense. I’m scared and excited and hopeful and terrified all at once.

The itinerary that we received when we signed up includes encouraging phrases such as:

Totally exposed to the ever-present gales, the tents are pitched on a narrow, stony, and dangerous ridge. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the terrain before dark to avoid any accidents.

Remind me why we’re doing this again?

Right. I remember. We love challenges! And this is a BIG bucket-list item that we’ll get to check off this year. The accomplishment will be well worth it.

The hike is being hosted by my husband’s company, Acacia Mining, so we’ll be joined by an entourage of his coworkers and their families. We’ll also be climbing for a good cause, raising money for CanEducate, a charity that provides support, education and learning tools to under privileged children in Africa. I’ll update this post as soon as the donation page is live (read: hit you all up for donations!)

So far, I’m noticing a lot of similarities between marathon training and mountain climbing training.

We bought our hiking boots – the most essential piece of equipment – and we’re working on breaking them in. Like running, it would be a massive mistake to trial your shoes for the first time on race day, so it’s important that we get some miles in on the new shoes before we arrive in Africa. To do this, we’ve planned some hikes, we wear them to walk to work and I even wear mine around the flat while I make dinner.

The other similarity between marathon running and mountain climbing is the endurance and determination needed to finish it. We’ll do the training and we’ll be in good shape, but advice from people who have climbed Kili before is that the final ascent requires just as much mental stamina as it does physical. Kind of like the last couple kilometres of a marathon. I feel like that part might seem strangely familiar.

But will the actual climb itself be tougher than a running a marathon? I hope that will be a subject of a blog post set to publish around July 2015. Stay tuned!

If any former Kili climbers out there want to give us some advice, we’re all ears!


    • Miranda May 13, 2015 / 4:57 am

      Thanks! I’m feeling a bit nervous, but after a few long hikes in my new boots, I’m sure I’ll be feeling ready to tackle the challenge. (I hope!)

  1. afastpacedlife May 11, 2015 / 5:33 pm

    Sooo jealous! Doing that climb is on my bucket list too. Can’t wait to read all about it. Take lots of photos for us. Do you know Karla of Run, Karla, Run? She’s done Mt K some years ago. Have tons of fun!!!!

    • Miranda May 13, 2015 / 4:57 am

      I don’t follow Karla, but I will now. Will hit her up for tips! Thanks! I’ll take tons of pics and will definitely publish a thorough recap.

  2. April Cunningham May 11, 2015 / 8:07 pm

    Woah. I had no idea it would take so long to hike! This is serious business! Well it’s great that you don’t have to carry your gear. And you have a group, so there are really no risks. Nice that you can focus on the physical aspect on its own. How fun!!

    • Miranda May 13, 2015 / 4:58 am

      Totally. It’s a well run operation, so it’s really all down to me and my own mental and physical endurance!

  3. John December 9, 2020 / 1:36 pm

    So which would you say was harder? A marathon or Kilimanjaro? Thanks!

  4. David May 20, 2022 / 7:04 am

    Any thoughts about running a marathon 4 days after finishing the Mt. Kilimanjaro hike?

    • thoughtsandpavement May 20, 2022 / 8:53 am

      Definitely doable. You’ll be tired but more exhausted from long hikes and long hours. The hike itself is an endurance event but it isn’t as physically demanding as I would have thought. You’ll need some rest, but if you’ve done the training and the long runs ahead of your climb, I think you can do it. May not be your fastest marathon, but that’s OK! Good luck!

  5. John August 22, 2023 / 5:54 pm

    Appreciate this post. So what’s the verdict? Did you find climbing Kilimanjaro harder than running the marathon? Thanks

    • thoughtsandpavement August 23, 2023 / 3:31 pm

      Honestly, I don’t know! Even with the benefit of some time and space away from both my Kilimanjaro climb and my marathon, I’m just not sure. They’re both bloody hard! But for different reasons. I think the mental strength required for both events is similar, but the training and physical strength for a marathon was certainly more (in my case). They both include a degree of suffering, followed by a massive, giant sense of achievement. Not for everyone, but I would still highly recommend both events. Two of my greatest achievements!

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